Mike Roark had a job interview Thursday. Cleanshaven and well-dressed, he headed to the Employment Development Department office in Modesto to see about work as a security guard.
He said he had the We Care program's winter shelter in Turlock to thank.
"Without this place, I wouldn't be able to be clean, and look decent for people," said Roark, 54. "It means a lot."
But the shelter, scheduled to stay open through March, likely will close early unless more money comes in — soon. We Care houses up to 34 men every night; the shelter has been at or close to capacity most nights.
Director Maris Sturdevant said she sent a donation appeal out last week; as of Thursday, she'd received three checks. She's also made a grant proposal, but that money wouldn't come in until March.
The shelter costs $88,875 to run each year. Some of that money comes from federal and other grants, but "We're needing $25,000 from cash contributions," Sturdevant said.
Last year, the shelter brought in $28,000, including two individual donations of $6,000 each.
"There's a chance," Sturdevant said. "I'm hopeful."
Other area shelters also are wrestling with more need and less money than even last year.
"We've had to cut back on staffing," said Brian Aird, business coordinator for The Salvation Army in Modesto, which runs a winter shelter that serves up to 130 people per night in inclement weather.
And while the money is dropping, the need is growing.
"In 2008, we had to turn away 90 people," Aird said. "In 2009, we turned away 372 people."
Aird said The Salvation Army has relied more on volunteer help this year, and that's not as reliable as employees. The shelter also works with a local culinary school to provide dinners on evenings when church groups or organizations aren't available.
Sturdevant said We Care has made some changes, as well. And some of them have been for the better.
"We can't afford paper plates anymore, so we use real dishes and the men have to wash them," she said. Guests also have to cook occasionally.
"Some of the men really enjoy that," Sturdevant said. "We call it life skills learning, because they're going to have to know how to wash dishes and cook when they're on their own."
Across town, the Turlock Gospel Mission's winter shelter for women is faring better, though it doesn't serve as many people. The shelter, which is housed in a rotation of local churches for a week at a time, can take up to 30 women and children. Most nights, they don't have that many.
"I have calls from social service agencies almost every day," director Jeff Woods said. "Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don't."
He said women, especially those with children, fare better when looking for a place to stay.
So far, the Gospel Mission has been able to maintain a healthy enough bank balance that it's meeting its staffing needs of about $20,000 per month.
'No way to get dry'
And Woods said he's very grateful, especially with the rainstorms that battered the area this week.
"We get a lot of people who say they can handle the heat and the cold. But when you get the cold and the wet, there's no way to get dry if you're homeless," Woods said. "This is a really tough, tough time for people who are on the street."
On the street is where Robert Smithcamp would be if it weren't for the We Care program.
The 48-year-old Turlock man has been homeless for almost four years. He's struggled with drugs in the past, but "I've been clean for a year and four months," he said Thursday as he packed up to leave for the day.
Several men said We Care provides more than just a roof over their heads and a warm meal. Staff help with paperwork and clothes so they can get government benefits or find work.
"It means home," said Philip Durso, 51. He said he lost his house after his father passed away last year.
"They've provided me with clothing, showers and a nice, warm bed," Durso said.
"When you're homeless, you think people don't care, but here, you find there are good, warm-hearted people," Smithcamp said. Now he's got three part-time jobs and is getting his own place to live.
"Life is worth living again," he said. "If it wasn't for the shelter, I wouldn't have a chance."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.